With the publication of The Hapless Child in 1961, Edward Gorey's considerable skill as an artist becomes fully realized. In his previously published volumes, EG had been experimenting with different drawing styles and levels of line work, but for this story Mr. Gorey pulls out all the stops and produces intricate drawings that are densely detailed. Each illustration becomes a master class on how to render people, wallpapers, bricks, cloth, plant life and various atmospheric conditions using only black ink on white paper. All of this could become so over the top that it would stand in the way of the story being told, but due to Mr. Gorey's expertise it enhances rather than detracts from the tale.
Remembering that artwork in his published books is reproduced life size to his original drawings, it is no small feat that Gorey was able to put so many details into each image. In The Hapless Child, he has finally gone over the edge and created a masterpiece of pattern, texture, light and shadow.
This being stated, I must admit that The Hapless Child is not my favorite Gorey volume even though I realize that it is a turning point in his career as an author/illustrator. This book is inspired by Mr. Gorey's love of silent films and the book has a cinematic feel to it, both in the story telling and the illustrations. Even with the plot twists and turns, I find The Hapless Child to be a rather straightforward tale, and for me it less engaging than his more non-linear stories which invite the reader to join in and "fill in the blanks".
A fun fact about The Hapless Child is that every drawing in the book contains a small black creature cavorting about the scene. Part of the charm of this book is to locate the creature in each drawing, an artistic device that Mr. Gorey did not repeat in any other book.
The Hapless Child is the second volume in the Ivan Obolensky triad. The first edition has a pinky/ purple cover and once again, it is a paperback book that can be difficult to find in excellent condition because when the book has been read a few times it shows signs of wear quickly. The Hapless Child was included in Amphigorey and is currently in print and available as an individual book.
I have several editions of this title in my collection: two 1st/1st's; one in excellent condition that is signed, and one in slightly lesser condition that is signed and inscribed to me by Mr. Gorey. The smaller blue copy in the photo is an Honor Astor reprint which is also signed. The 1st hardcover in DJ was published by Dodd Mead in 1980 (this book sometimes is called a reprint, but it is the first American hardcover edition). Also shown is the white Swiss 1st hardcover. This volume was included in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts 1984 Gorey Stories exhibition.